2009 01 20 - 0862 - Washington DC - Union Station
2011 11 22 - Used by Washington City Paper's Housing Complex.
[for the full Inauguration story, visit my blog]
Emerging into the lower levels of Union Station's Metro stop, the only way to go was outside – all the direct accesses into the main part of the station were closed off. So I went outside and hooked left to head up to the main entrance. A large crowd was amassed here full of would-be train riders – some destined for Amtrak, some for MARC, some for VRE, and others trying to get to Metro. Police officers walked the banisters calling out information.
It was a bit aggravating as people tried to figure out where which groups were supposed to go. It ultimately ended up that Amtrak went one way and MARC / VRE went another way. Metro folks were out of luck: this station was exit-only and was closed to people trying to get on. It was a bit crazy at first just trying to figure out which mass of people I was supposed to be standing in... and we were all trying to figure that out together. Once we started getting into the right groups, one of the officers led the MARC group in a chant: "MARC! MARC! MARC!" to get other would-be riders to take heed.
There was one slip-up where a guy carrying large signs reading “MARC” with an upward-pointing arrow went walking away from the crowd… and like chasing after the Pied Piper, I and many other would-be MARC riders followed. It was when he kept walking away from the train station and stopped to chat with some police officers when I inquired whether we were supposed to be following the sign, or if he was just moving it about. It was the latter… I really didn’t quite expect that answer, but I was glad I asked.
This event was a blessing in disguise. Seconds later, they started letting some people into the station (the officers were metering entering traffic so it didn’t get too crowded). With me approaching at a different angle, a police car and porta-potty formed a pick and I had almost a clear shot into the now-moving crowd. In all I waited perhaps 10 minutes to get inside, and then another 10 minutes or so inside. It wasn’t bad – I generally felt like I was moving most of that time. With much of the day gone by, the crowd itself was still in good spirits, and almost every person thanked & praised the police staff & volunteers.
Rightly so. Considering the pressure of maintaining security, controlling crowds, and offering directions – all at the same time – I’d say that they really did do a stellar job (except for that hiccup when I first arrived that morning). The force could’ve used some more officers and volunteers to provide & reiterate information, as it was often difficult to hear instructions over the wail of the crowd. Additionally, I found that the volunteers tended to be a bit lacking in information… I suspect they were trained moreso in maintaining their specific locations and duties than offering directions, and I’m sure many came from areas far beyond DC.
It would have also been immensely useful had there been better maps available. WMATA, which runs the Metro services, has an excellent base map, but all they did with it was plot a couple concentric circles to show how far things were – 1 mile, 2 miles, 3 miles. All the other maps coming from the Inauguration Committee or the District were absolutely useless, often so cluttered with information in a jack-of-all-trades map that they became inundated with too much information. Some of the news stations prepared their own maps, but the informal Google Maps mashups just didn’t cut it for the level of detail that was needed. I hope that next time the District and committees make use of WMATA’s map as a base and then tailor-make several maps geared toward specific audiences.
The lines moved more quickly thanks to the fact that the officers & volunteers were just putting people on trains... any trains... You got separated out by Amtrak, VRE, MARC Penn Line, and then MARC Brunswick / Camden Lines. After that, you just boarded whatever train was waiting... didn't matter what train your ticket was for, so long as you were going in the right direction.